Music In Your Ears Pt2! Samsung Galaxy Buds

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Now, I won’t sugar coat it.  I have been a Samsung device fanboy from way back.  In fact, my first cell phone was a Samsung flip phone (I think).  So needless to say, I have had a lot of Samsung Android devices over the years, most recently a Samsung Galaxy S8 for me and the S20 for my wife.  When I went looking for a pair of earbuds to go with my S8 work phone, I gave the Samsung Galaxy Buds a try.  While I wanted them to be great, they were not the best I found out there. 

Overall, after adding Comply foam ear tips to the earbuds, I liked the form factor of the buds and thought the sound was pretty good.  Unfortunately, when it came to call quality, they were just no good, picking up too much background noise.  Calls were so bad at times, my wife described me as sounding like “Charlie Brown’s teacher”.  You know, the one that you can only hear “Wah, wah wha wah” sounds from.  Included below is a quick summary of my findings.

The Good:

  • Easy pairing process.  While compatible with all Bluetooth devices, the Galaxy Buds have an Automatic Sync feature for Samsung devices that allow them to be easily paired.  To pair with other devices, simply open your Bluetooth settings and flip open the case.  It’s that easy.
  • Compact size.  Unlike others on the market, the Galaxy Buds snug into your ear for a very low-profile fit.  Nothing is hanging out of your ear.  Also, the case is very slim and fits in your pocket well. 
  • Wireless charging.  In addition to USB-C charging, the Samsung Galaxy Buds have a case that supports wireless charging.  Like a lot of Samsung products, the wireless charging case for the Galaxy Buds is a very convenient feature.  They even included The Galaxy Buds with the Samsung Galaxy S10 for a period, advertising them as being a great combo and able to charge off the phone using the Powershare wireless charging function.
  • Customization of sound in the app.  Like other competitors in the space, Samsung allows for customization of sound and features through the Galaxy Wear app.  This allows you to adjust the equalizer, touch controls and voice assistant settings.  Unfortunately, the app is not available for iPhone users.
  • Bass heavy sound quality.  If you’re a bass head like me, the Galaxy Buds soundstage will likely appeal to you, with more emphasis found on the bass.  It appealed to my general taste well.
  • Solid battery life.  With roughly 6 hours of runtime, and additional 6+ hours with the included charging case, the battery life on the Galaxy Buds won’t disappoint.
  • Price.  While they originally retailed around $129, you can find the Galaxy Buds for as low as $49 these days at retailers like Walmart (see link below).  Pretty good deal!
  • 2 LED power indicators.  Samsung included a power indicator on the inside and outside of the case to let you know the status of the case and the buds themselves at a glance

The Not So Good:

  • Call quality. After testing the buds for a while, I had to give them up as a headset due to the call quality.  As you will see from the test audio included below, while the dual microphones pic up my voice well, they pic up every bit of background noise as well (even my son downstairs).  This leads to a very muddled call sound for those on the other end typically.
  • Not a real comfortable fit.  The fully in ear design may not be great for everyone.  I found it was a little uncomfortable after extended use (1 hour+).

Want to see some pics of the earbuds? Check out the slideshow:

Audio example.  You will hear my son, all the way from downstairs.

Can you hear him? Imagine if he was in the same room.

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

Music In Your Ears Pt1-Jabra Elite Active 65t

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Alright, as my wife can attest, I have a lot of earbuds. Some might even say I have a bit of a problem. Wired, wireless, a combo of both, I’ve tried a lot. When I went looking for a pair of true wireless earbuds for my old work phone (Samsung Galaxy S8), I came across a pair from Jabra a couple of years back at Costco and had to give them a try. The Jabra Elite Active 65t!  

Now, as most of you can tell by now, I am a big fan of Jabra’s headsets and speakerphones. After testing several out, I am convinced they make some of the best sounding devices on the market when it comes to microphone and call quality. That said, they haven’t always been as great on music quality. After trying the Elite Active 65t’s out for several years, I was once again left with the same impression, great for calls, but just ok for music. While I’m no audiophile, and I am a bit of a bass-head, the low-end punch on the 65t’s seemed a bit lacking for my taste. That said, after adding a pair of the Comply foam ear tips to the earbuds and playing with the custom equalizer settings a bit in the Jabra Sound+ app, I was able to find a soundstage I liked. The better fit of the ear tips allowed for increased comfort, less ambient noise, and seemed to help enhance the low-end punch a decent amount.  Included below is a quick summary of my testing.

The Good:

  • Call quality. Like other Jabra products, Jabra paid attention to the call quality on the Elite Active 65t earbuds, and they don’t disappoint. However, as these are meant to be for more active entertainment uses, do not expect the sophisticated noise-canceling microphones they offer on other headsets
  • Durable design. With an IP56-rated water-resistant design and a 2-year warranty against damage from sweat and dust, you don’t have to worry about throwing these in your bag for a commute on the train. They’ll hold up.
  • Good customization of sound in the app.  Unlike some of its competitors, Jabra provides an app (Jabra Sound+) that allows you to customize the sound and other features on the earbuds. This includes features like a sound pass-thru setting that uses the mic to allow ambient noise through in a busy setting when you need it. They also include a couple of white noise and relaxation settings to allow you to increase your focus and reduce your stress. While not noise canceling, this was certainly a cool feature when released several years back.
  • Solid battery life.  With 5 hours of charge in the earbuds and 10 hours in the included charging case, you get solid battery performance. They also allow for 1 hour’s worth of use after just 15 minutes of charge. A good save if you forgot to charge them before a call, trust me.
  • Alexa enabled. With the included app, you can choose between your phone’s voice assistant or Amazon Alexa at the press of a button. A pretty cool option for voice assistant geeks like me.

The Not So Good:

  • No wireless charging.  While they added it in later years, the 65t’s do not support wireless charging and require a micro-USB to be used to charge the case and earbuds.
  • A small external LED on the bottom of the case.  As they likely intended for you to charge your case and earbuds on their back, there is a small LED at the bottom of the case to indicate they are charging. Unfortunately, it does not give you a read-out of how much charge they have.
  • The case is difficult to open.  At least for me, I find the latch on the charging case to be a bit difficult to open at times, usually requiring 2 hands. While likely part of the more rugged design, don’t expect to just flip them open on the go like others on the market.
  • Not a real comfortable fit.  While the design was intended to be snug in your ear to prevent them from falling out during activity, the tight fit was a bit uncomfortable after some extended wear (1hr+). While that could just be me, it is something to consider.

Want to see some pics of the earbuds? Check out the slideshow:

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

Earbud Buddies-Comply Foam Ear Tips

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Before I start down the path of telling you all about my earbud experiences, I thought it would be good to cover a must-have accessory I have found.  Now we all have a lot of earbuds.  Whether they came with your phone or you bought them separately, we all use them from time to time.  If you use them a lot like me, you are probably looking for a way to make them more comfortable?  I’ve got a solution for you.  Memory foam earbud tips from Comply. 

I initially came across these when I was looking for a way to make my Marshall earbuds more comfortable for extended wear.  After testing them out, I am now addicted to them, and I put them on all my earbuds.  Overall, Comply foam replacement ear tips do a great job making the fit more comfortable in my ears, and due to the better fit, they help provide a better overall sound.  After many pairs and years of use, here is what I have found.

The Good:

  • Comfortable fit.  By using a memory foam material, you can get a softer more comfortable fit that molds to your ears.  This extra padding is more comfortable for me than the silicone options most earbuds ship with.
  • Great sound isolation.  While they are by no means a substitute for a good pair of noise-canceling headphones that cover your ears and block out sound using white noise, the foam tips do help to block out outside noise.  As the memory foam material is similar to that used in earplugs, the tight fit they provide helps to reduce the outside noise from distracting you. 
  • Improved sound quality.  With a better fit and less outside noise, you get a better sound from your earbuds, at least in my opinion.  Due to the improved fit, you seem to hear more of the highs and get an enhanced experience from the lows.  While I am no audiophile, I believe they have improved the sound of each pair of earbuds I have added them to.
  • Variety of sizes available.  Not sure what size you are?  Neither was I.  The good news is they make a multi-pack that comes with S/M/L size options for you to try out.
  • Support a wide range of brands.  Comply’s website helps you find the right ear tips that work for your earbuds.  I have yet to find a brand that I have purchased that they don’t support.  If they don’t have them, simply submit a request and see what happens.  I did so when I got my AirPods Pro, and they had an option out there roughly 1 month later.  I realize I probably wasn’t the reason they made them, as the AirPods Pro are very popular, but it didn’t hurt, right?

The Not So Good:

  • A little pricey.  At around $20 for 3 pairs of ear tips, they may seem a bit pricey for what they are to some.  That said, they may make you like the existing earbuds you have, saving you from buying a new pair.
  • Clean those ears.  As the material they use is typically black, you might want to clean your ears a bit before snugging them in.  Else, you might not like what you see when you pop them out.  They certainly show everything they pick up.  No judgments.

Want to see some pics of the tips?  Check out the slideshow:

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

The Big Boys of Streaming-Part 1-Amazon Fire TV Cube

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Alright, in my last couple of posts, I’ve talked about the streaming devices and platforms that I like from Roku & Google.  Now let’s chat about the one that is not my favorite, Amazon Fire TV.  As a heavy Amazon Alexa and Echo device user, I had very high hopes for Amazon’s Fire TV lineup, and I tried a bunch.  In this post, I am going to focus on my experience with the Fire TV Cube.

So, as a whole, the Fire TV Cube idea sounded great to me.  It offered a streaming and Amazon Alexa device in one compact unit.  These were all good things for me, and perhaps could be for you.  Unfortunately, after testing it out with daily use for about a year, I didn’t find the device all that helpful in practical use.

The Good:

  •  Two devices in one package. The Fire TV Cube lets you streamline your streaming and voice assistant set up by combining the Amazon Echo Voice Assistant with a Fire TV Stick.  In one device you get both items.
  • Voice control.  Using the device or your remote, you can control your TV, soundbar, and other Amazon Alexa-enabled devices with your voice.
  • Enables your TV as an Alexa display.  As an Amazon Alexa compatible device, the Fire TV Cube allows your TV to be used as a display for Alexa enable services like smart home cameras.  Pretty cool for a smart home geek like me.
  • Straightforward installation.  The Fire TV Cube has a relatively compact footprint, enabling you to place it on a TV stand near your TV.  Connect it to your TV via an HDMI Cable (not included) and plug it into power with the included adapter, and your good to go.
  • Good picture quality.  With 4K resolution plus Dolby Vision, HDR & HDR10+ support, you get a quality picture.
  • Simple remote design.  With 11 buttons and a D-pad on the front, the simplicity of the remote is good.  Something most people quickly get the hang of.
  • Universal remote capability.  The Fire TV cube can be used as a universal remote to control your TV soundbar and more.  Allowing you to add basic voice control commands for your non-Alexa enable devices. 
  • Consolidated interface with recommendations of Amazon Prime programming.  Provides a solid user interface with recommendations for shows available for you to watch on Amazon Prime Video.  It also supports additional services like Hulu, Netflix & Disney+ to allow you to bring your streaming services together.  But of course, as an Amazon device, it will default to Prime Video first.

The Not So Good:

  • The Fire TV interface is a bit laggy.  Unlike others I have tested, I have found the Amazon Fire TV interface feels a bit slower than others.  Perhaps this is just my inpatients or the fact that they are combining 2 devices, but it is just a feeling I get when using it.
  • Universal remote-control functionality a bit hit or miss.  In fairness, this may have been addressed by recent changes made by Amazon, but from my experience, using the Amazon Fire TV Cube as a universal remote for my Samsung TV and Yamaha Soundbar yielded inconsistent results.  I tried several adjustments to the placement of the device to allow for a better IR signal, but did not feel it performed consistently enough to ditch my remote.  Amazon may have addressed this by adding an IR extender to the standard package, as this was not included with my device when it first came out (as far as I remember).
  • A bit bulky as a streaming device.  As it is the combo of the Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices, the Fire TV Cube is a bit bulkier than some other streaming device options.  This is because unlike others, this device has a speaker built in to enable feedback from Amazon Alexa
  • Alexa functionality seemed limited at times.  While I am not sure why, certain skills enabled on my Amazon Alexa account would not work well with the Fire TV Cube.  An example of this was the My GMC (Onstar) skill.  While it would work fine on other Alexa devices, it had issues on the Fire TV Cube.
  • Fire TV remote battery compartment is harder to open.  I don’t know why, but I always have a decent amount of trouble when trying to open the battery compartment on the Amazon Fire TV remote.  While this may be good for some, as the batteries won’t fall out easy, it definitely bugged me.

Want to see some pics of the device?  Check out the slideshow below:

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

The Streaming Alternative! Part Deux Roku TV 43″ 4K

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

So, in my last post, I noted that TV manufacturers didn’t prioritize the “smart” part of their TV designs.  For the most part that is true, but there is an exception, TCL Roku TVs.  TCL & Roku partnered together to create a product I really like.  TCL & Roku flipped the script and included the best of the Roku streaming devices and platform into a TV format.  That means, like Roku’s streaming devices, the TCL Roku TVs focus on bringing together streaming services and internet connectivity as a priority.    Sure, the TVs also pack all the same features a standard TV does, allowing them to be used with cable boxes and other sources, but I believe the TVs were meant to be a streaming first device. 

Why do I think that?  Well, let’s start at the beginning, with the setup process.  Like every other Roku device, when you initially configure a TCL Roku TV, you are prompted to connect to the internet and activate the device on your Roku account, just like any other streaming device.  You then perform a quick system update and walk through the app/channel selection process to ensure the appropriate apps/channels are loaded to your TV.  Once this is all done, then the device walks you through what you have connected to the TV.  In my mind, this is showing a priority to streaming services vs connected peripherals.  Next, let’s talk interface.  Unlike other TV brands, when you initially start a TCL Roku TV, by default, you are brought to the standard Roku platform home screen, just like on their streaming devices.  Sure, if you have a cable or satellite box connected, you can set the source to launch at startup.  But again, defaulting to a standard home screen with all of your apps certainly seems to encourage the use of streaming services.

Overall, I like the TCL Roku TVs.  They allow you a lot of flexibility and are very affordable.  I have tried their 32″ (720P & 1080P) and 43″ (4K) versions, and the picture quality is very good!  They have allowed me to put TVs where I want them, without needing a cable or HDMI connection, even outside :-)! Overall, TCL’s goal seems to be to optimize the streaming experience in a solid display.

Having tried the Series-4 43″ 4K version for over a year, here is a quick summary of my findings. 

The Good:

  • Very affordable.  Unlike other options out there, the TCL Roku TVs are very affordable.  At ~$260 for a 43″ 4K option, you really can’t go wrong.  After trying 3 versions over 3 years, all are still working and performing fine.  Well, all but one 32″ version my son hit with a club in the screen.  But I didn’t scream too bad, as it was only $150 to replace.
  • Quick setup. Plug the device in, follow the onscreen & online prompts and you’re good to go.  If you have multiple devices, Roku even remembers your favorite apps/channels to help streamline the install process
  • Good picture quality.  With 4K resolution, 120hz effective refresh rate, 4K upscaling, and HDR support, you get a very good picture in a streamlined package
  • Quick start-up time.  Unlike other secondary streaming devices I have tested, the TCL Roku TVs boot up and connect very quickly.  I would almost say no lag, especially when you enable the quick start setting.  See for yourself in the included boot-up video below.
  • Strong Wi-Fi card.  Unlike other TV manufacturers, TCL seems to focus on the strength of its Wi-Fi card.  The connection strength, stability, and monitoring are very similar to what you can expect from any other streaming device.  This helps to ensure optimal video quality when streaming.
  • Voice control.  Using an optional Bluetooth remote, your phone, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant devices, you can search shows, launch apps or control the device itself.
  • Ease of installation.  With a basic lightweight design, the TV easily mounts on a wall with a stationary French cleat mount.  It allows me to quickly grab it off my office wall and bring it outside for some fun.
  • Bluetooth connectivity. With an optional Bluetooth remote and speakers available from Roku, you can control your device without having to point right at it.  This is good, as the included IR remote can be finicky.
  • Simple remote design.  With 12 buttons and a D-pad on the front, and 3 volume controls on the side, the simplicity of the remote is great.  Something most people quickly get the hang of.
  • Wireless display compatible.  With a built-in screen mirroring option, the Series 4 43” 4K TV makes a solid secondary wireless display.  It connects via wifi and allows me to view training videos and other content from my Surface Pro 7 on the larger display.  A pretty cool addition to my home office setup.
  • Compatible w/Xfinity.  For those of you looking to reduce the cost of your boxes or maybe take your TV outside for fun, the Roku platform is great.  It supports the Xfinity X1 Stream Beta app that allows you to browse your Xfinity content without needing a cable box or coaxial connection.  Just plug in the TV and go.  I will admit, the interface was a bit too clunky for my taste though.  More computer-like than TV.  Also, you’ll need to be on your home network to get full access.

The Not So Good:

  • Include IR remote is very finicky.  While they provide a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi app control option, the included IR-only remote does not perform well.  You need to be pointing it right at the IR receiver under the TCL logo to make sure it works.  I wish the Bluetooth remote with voice control was included by default.  That said, given the price point, I understand why it isn’t.
  • Remote controls TV and TCL Roku accessories only.  While the remote will control the TV and supported TCL Roku Speakers, it does not support other external sources.  As I use these as secondary TVs for the most part (in my office, kid’s room & outside), the included speakers are fine.  That said, if this is going to be a primary TV for you, connected to soundbars or Blu-Ray players, you will need to consider a universal remote solution, like one from Logitech.
  • Not the slimmest design out there.  As you will see from the included pics, while LED displays are very light and easy to move & mount, they are not the slimmest.  Overall they aren’t that bad but don’t expect a super slim design

Want to see some pics of the TV?  Check out the slideshow below:

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

The Streaming Alternative! Roku Streaming Stick+

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Alright, now I love my Google Chromecast w/Google TV, but the Roku platform comes in a very close second. Before the new Chromecast came out, I was a big Roku fan.  I purchased a bunch of TCL Roku TVs and like the interface.  When I initially tested out YouTube TV, I grabbed a couple of Roku Streaming Stick+’s for my Samsung and Hisense TVs.  Why did I do that you ask?  Can’t smart TVs run the apps?  Sure, TV manufacturers like Samsung allow you to install streaming service apps ( Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube & YouTubeTV) natively on your TV, and they work fine.  That said, most TV manufacturers primarily focus their attention on the quality of the display and tack on the “Smart” apps as an add-on feature.  This means things like the built-in Wi-Fi and app load speed are a little lacking.  That’s where streaming devices like the Roku Streaming Stick+ come in to play.  They prioritize the ability to run apps and stream video in their design.

 Overall, I like the Roku Streaming Stick+ device, but just thought it could bring things together a bit better.  Having tested it for several months, here are my findings:

The Good:

  • Quick setup. Plug the device in, follow the onscreen prompts, activate the device via the web, and you’re good to go.  If you have multiple devices, Roku even remembers your favorite apps to help streamline the install process.
  • Strong Wi-Fi card.  Where the Roku Streaming Stick+ set itself apart for me was in the strength of its Wi-FI card.  While it is not WIFI6 compliant (as it was released in 2017), Roku focused on having a great Wi-Fi signal.  They boast that it has a longer reach than the competition.  In my testing, they were right, as it ensured a strong signal in places others were lacking.  This is critical to ensuring you can stream full 4K content.
  • Voice control.  With the included remote, a voice search option is available.  This allows you to search for content or launch an app using your voice.  Also, it is compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.  Great flexibility for those who need it.  Roku also claims it is compatible with Apple HomeKit as well, but I believe you need Apple TV or a like device to make that happen.  At that point, you already have a streaming device.
  • Control your TV from your devices.  Lost the remote?  No problem.  The Roku app available on the Apple App Store & Google Play Store allows you to control your TV or streaming stick from your phone and tablet.  Great when using outside so you don’t lose the remote.
  • Ease of installation.  Unlike the new Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick+ can be powered off the USB ports likely found on your TV.  This means one less wire to snake and plug to search for.
  • Great picture quality.  For such a small device, it packs a punch. With 4K HDR support, you will not be disappointed. As I noted in my other streaming-related posts, I feel like the streaming devices and services allow access to more 4K content than my cable box did. Things just seem crisper and more vibrant vs the cable experience.
  • Wifi & Bluetooth connectivity. The included remote pairs well with the device tucked away behind your TV. No need to worry about pointing it at the device. Also, due to wifi connectivity, your phone can be used as a remote as well.
  • Simple remote design.  With 13 buttons and a D-pad on the front, and 3 volume controls on the side, the simplicity of the remote is great.  Something most people quickly get the hang of.
  • Compatible w/Xfinity.  For those of you looking to reduce the cost of your boxes or maybe take your TV outside for fun, the Roku platform is great.  It supports the Xfinity X1 Stream Beta app that allows you to browse your Xfinity content without needing a cable box or coaxial connection.  Just plug in the TV and go.  I will admit, the interface was a bit too clunky for my taste though.  More computer-like than TV.  Also, you’ll need to be on your home network to get full access.

The Not So Good:

  • No quick-start option.  When you start up a Roku device, while the TVs allow you to auto-start from an external source (like a cable box), you cannot auto-start from an app.  That means, cannot just jump in and browse live TV without selecting your preferred app first.  Not a big deal, but not as user-friendly as others.
  • Slow boot-up time.  In some setups, after powering down, the streaming stick will reboot fully.  When starting up after a reboot, the launch time can be a little tedious.  I included an example in a video below. This has been blamed on using TV power vs provided adapter.
  • Remote controls device and TV only.  While the remote will control the power and sound on both the TV and the device, it does not support external sources like soundbars.  So, if you’re like me and you don’t like the sound quality from your TV speakers only, you’re going to need to invest in a universal remote solution, like one from Logitech, that will allow you to control everything from one remote.

Want to see some more pics of the Interface?  Check out the slideshow below:

Here is an example of the boot time. Remember, this is powered by my Samsung TV

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple of quick links.

All of Your Content in One Place! Chromecast w/Google TV

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Alright, so you’ve cut the cord like me. Now what? If you’re like me, you were probably a little annoyed with having to search each service to find the movie or show you’re looking for. It was cumbersome and had me second-guessing my decision a bit. Then it happened. The folks over at Google figured it out.  

Google created an interface that allows you to seamlessly search (most) services and find the content you are looking for, even using your voice. Sure others (like Roku) have done something similar, but where Google really set itself apart was the integration with Live TV. As Google owns YouTube, they built out the Chromecast w/Google TV interface with YouTube TV users in mind. Just say what you’re looking for, and up pops your DVR content and channels when relevant. Like browsing through the channels to see what’s on? Simply slide over to the Live tab on the home screen, and you’ll see the standard guide type interface you likely have become accustomed to from your cable service. For me, Chromecast w/Google TV brought all the stuff I loved from my cable service to a more flexible and portable interface. Simply buy the device once for $49.99 and you’re good. No more outrageous box fees every month.

The Good:

  • Control all your services on one screen.  Download the apps from the Google Play Store, log in once, and you’re good. Once set up, content from all your services is brought forward to the home screen.  
  • Voice control.  Enable voice search for the streaming service app, and you’ll be able to easily search your streaming services using your voice with the included remote or Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home & Home Mini.
  • Customized suggestions.  Like all things Google, the more you use it, the more it learns. As you browse and watch content on the device, it learns you’re preferences and begins to suggest content for you. Allows you to discover things you may never have thought of on your own.
  • Great integration with YouTube TV.  If you’re a YouTube TV fan like me, this is the device for you. It brings the YouTube TV Live TV guide right to the home screen, enabling you to browse like you would on cable. Unlike other platforms and streaming devices I’ve tried, it really feels like Google prioritized the Live TV option for users
  • Great picture quality.  For such a small device, it packs a punch. With 4K HDR, at 60 FPS and supporting Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, you will not be disappointed. As I noted in my YouTube TV post, I feel like the streaming devices and services allow access to more 4K content than my cable box did. Things just seem crisper and more vibrant vs the cable experience.
  • Share your device content quickly. As this is a Chromecast after all, it does a great job mirroring the content from your mobile device. It’s a great way to share photos with family and friends without huddling around a device.
  • Wifi & Bluetooth connectivity. The included remote pairs well with the device tucked away behind your TV. No need to worry about pointing it at the device. Also, as it supports multiple accessories, I am sure you could connect things like a Bluetooth keyboard or maybe headphones if you were so inclined (I’ll have to test that 🙂 ). Allows room for more accessories to come.
  • Simple remote that pairs with TV & Soundbar.  The remote design is very minimalist. With just 8 buttons and a navigation pad on the front, and volume control on the side. The remote allows you to power on your TV and control the volume all from one small remote. It’s so basic, even my 5-year-old has it figured out.

The Not So Good:

  • Not the fastest Wi-Fi connection out there. Similar to others on the market, The Chromecast w/Google TV supports a Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band signal. While this is fast enough to have the streaming bandwidth you need, I would have loved to see it supporting WiFi6 to help future-proof it.
  • Still a bit new.  As you can likely tell, I am the definition of an early adopter.  As such, I got this right when it came out and I quickly fell in love, and now I use it everywhere. That said, it is relatively new to the market and has had some growing pains. It has stabilized in recent months in my opinion.
  • Remote seems to allow for power control of one device.  While the remote can be used to control power and volume on your TV and Soundbar, for power, in particular, it does not seem to be able to support simultaneous control. This means, when you hit the power button, it will turn one device on & off. While you can toggle the control in remote settings, that is a bit cumbersome.  While it also supports HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (CEC), I have yet to get it to control power for both devices when enabled.
  • The remote seems to burn through batteries.  The remote runs on 2 AAA batteries and seems to burn through them pretty quickly compared to others. In particular, the included non-descript batteries lasted under a month with regular daily use.
  • A tiny remote can be easily misplaced.  As the remote is very basic, it is also small in size. While great in some ways, we have found it easy to misplace. In a bed with white sheets, in particular, the white version of the remote easily disappears. I added a silicone sleeve to mine to help prevent that 😊.

Want to some more pics of the interface?  Check out the slideshow below :

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple quick links.

The Speed You Need! Part 4 Google Wifi

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

As I have said before, a quality Mesh Network System can help keep you and your family productive these days. Whether you’re working, learning, or simply relaxing by streaming a movie or show, having a solid Wi-Fi signal is critical.  While some (like me) may like the idea of having a hardwired connection, being able to connect in any room gives you the flexibility we all need today.  After all, we are all spending a lot more time at home these days, and we need to be creative about where we are working sometimes.

As advertised, Google Wi-Fi is a whole-home mesh network system “that just works”.  After its original launch back in October 2016, Google brought back the whole-home mesh network system again in October of 2020.  While not much changed outside of some minor aesthetics and power adapter changes, Google did bring back the popular system at a lower price point of $99 for 1 point and $199 for a 3 pack.  The price drop makes adding a quality mesh network option very accessible to most consumers.

Having used the Google Wi-Fi Mesh Network System since 2016 (yes I am that guy), here is what I have found.

The Good:

  • Easy to set up. Like most mesh systems, just download the app and follow the instructions. Pretty straightforward.
  • Solid signal. If you live in a house with a lot of walls like I do, having a strong signal really helps to keep things connected. By adding points around your house, you get a strong Wi-Fi signal where you need it.
  • One network, no switching. As I mentioned in previous posts, unlike old-school range extenders, that extend your network by creating a new one, Google Wifi allows you to extend your network with a consistent name and seamless switching between points. Move around freely without dropping your connection.
  • Visible connectivity LED. An adjustable bright LED ring surrounding the device lets you know how you’re doing. White you’re good, blue you have some work to do, and red you’re dead.
  • Two ethernet ports. These can be used to connect a device via a hard line for optimal speed and stability or to connect your Google Wifi device directly to your network for optimal performance when available.
  • Control everything from the app. Set up your network name, change the password, add new access points, see who’s connected, and customize your performance settings all from the app. Of the ones I have tested, I like the Google interface the best. It seems to be the most polished and complete. That said, they offer 2 options (Google Wifi and Google Home) for app control. While Google Home is the heir apparent, allowing you to coordinate all of your smart home devices and network, it is not as straightforward as the dedicated Google Wifi app. I hope they continue support for the Google Wifi app in the future for geeks like me.
  • Affordable starter kit. At $199 for a 3 pack, you get a solid base to start your home mesh network system
  • Very stable. At least in my experience, Google Wifi seems to be a very stable connection. The smart wifi system supposedly learns your usage patterns to help provide you with an optimal connection, without having to tweak settings. Updates occur regularly, without prompting overnight, ensuring that you always have the latest firmware in place on your system. It takes care of the maintenance for you, so as they say, it just works. I find this very helpful, as I don’t have to continually check on the status when I install it for friends and family.
  • Manage all your networks remotely. Having 1 app with my extended family’s networks available for review is great. If something does get out of whack, I can log in and help them troubleshoot basic issues from anywhere. That’s both a good and a bad thing right 😎?

The Not So Good:

  • Not the fastest out there.  Each point provides an AC1200 dual-band signal.  While solid, it is not as fast as competitors offering a WIFI6 or tri-banded options
  • A bit bulky in form.  The white puck design is very clean and basic, great for placing on a table.  That said, as that is the only design option, you will need to buy mounts to manage the long power cable and point if you want to be able to mount it on a wall out of the way.  A smaller point option that plugs directly into the wall would be great for places like attics and basements.

Interested in checking it out for yourself? Included below are a couple quick links.

Happy Hunting!

The Speed You Need-Part 3 Xfinity xFi Review

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

Alright, so on Friday I reviewed my fiber-optic internet experience with Verizon FIOS.  Now, let’s chat about its cable counterpart, Xfinity xFi internet service.  As I mentioned in my FIOS review, I was, and still am, a loyal Xfinity fan.  In fact, if Xfinity was able to match Verizon’s internet upload speeds, I would still have them at home today.  Unfortunately, at least in my area, they can’t.  That said, there are still plenty of good reasons to choose Xfinity xFi internet service.

As I mentioned, up until July 2020, I had been a loyal Xfinity customer at home and other locations for years.  Even today, at a shared family property, I am still an Xfinity xFi customer, as Verizon FIOS service is not available in the area.  As a result, I have strongly recommended Xfinity to friends and family over the years.  Included below are some of the reasons why I recommend them, and the drawbacks.

The Good:

  • Fast download speed.  Xfinity xFi offers fast download speeds, with standard packages that can reach up to 1.2 Gbps.  This is great if you do a lot of streaming.  Xfinity even offers up to 2.5 Gbps in some markets, but that is likely limited and pretty expensive, as I have never heard of anyone having it.
  • Available in most areas.  As Xfinity xFi uses coaxial cable to provide internet service, they are typically available in most markets/areas as an option.  If you can get cable TV, you can get Xfinity xFi service.
  • Offer’s Wi-Fi6 router.  Be sure to ask for the XB7 Gateway to ensure you get the latest Wi-Fi6 protocol.  This will help you maximize your Wi-Fi speeds on devices that support Wifi6. The router itself has 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and can support speeds up to 2.5 Gbps for areas that can support it.  Also, since I rent/lease my equipment from Xfinity, it allows me to upgrade to the latest equipment when they become available.
  • Add xFi Pods for a mesh system option.  Much like other mesh network systems in the market, Xfinity offers you the option to purchase additional access points to connect to your gateway, known as xFi Pods, to extend your network.  The Pods seamlessly integrate with your Xfinity XB6 or XB7 gateway, allowing you to create and manage a mesh network within the xFi app.   Unlike other options out there, the Xfinity xFi pods were very affordable initially, at $99 for a 3-pack, but they were limited in their throughput (topping out around 200 Mbps).  That said, they have recently released a more powerful tri-banded version of the xFi pod that promises increased range and throughput (up to 500 Mbps).  Of course, with an increase in power, comes an increased cost, with one costing $119 and a 2 pack at $199. 
  • Provides xFi app to control your network.  Change your network name, network password, or manage who is connected through parental controls, all from the XFi app.  Unlike its fiber optic competitor, the Xfinity xFi app focuses on the internet only, separating account related items like billing and promotions into the My Account app.  This allows for a cleaner more focused user experience in my opinion.
  • Provides xFi Advanced Security service.  Protect the devices that cannot protect themselves by monitoring and blocking threats at a router level.  Get’s them before they get into your network.
  • Great tech support.  Tech support is available via chat at all hours, and they do a great job of troubleshooting issues remotely.  If first-line support is unable to help, they can transfer you in the same session to specialists.  I have found this very helpful from time to time when addressing speed issues.
  • Great customer service.  Unlike its fiber competitor, I have found Xfinity’s customer service to be great.  Not only are they very patient with my questions, sticking with me until the issue is resolved, if they cannot address the issue themselves, they proactively offer service credits for my trouble.  Overall, this is one of the primary reasons I recommend them.  As I like to say, issues can happen, how you handle them is what makes a difference.

The Not So Good:

  • Limited upload speeds.  While Xfinity can match, and even beat, Wi-Fi speeds on the download side, they do not come close on the upload side for the standard customer.  They offer a max of only 40 Mbps to non-business class customers.  This has been described to me as a limitation of the coaxial cable connectivity by Xfinity support.  So, unfortunately, for the same price, you get roughly 25X the upload speed from the fiber competition.  If you are doing a lot of file transfers and concurrent video conferencing, like most of us are doing today, that extra upload bandwidth does come in handy.
  • Bandwidth is not dedicated.  Unlike its fiber competitors, which can provide dedicated bandwidth, the Xfinity customers, unfortunately, share the bandwidth with others in the area.  That means, in areas with heavy concentrations of Xfinity customers, speeds can fluctuate from time to time.  I know that my folks, who live in a very seasonal area in MA, find that their speeds take a dip once the summer season hits.
  • xFi Pod (Gen1) range & throughput were lacking.  While I cannot say if this has been addressed in the latest version of the xFi pods (Gen2), when I tested the Gen1 pods, I had to use up to 6 pods to fully cover my ~1600 sq ft (4 floors) home.  Even then, they had issues getting to a back bedroom due to interference (in fairness most solutions do).  Also, while I had a 1 GB plan, the Gen1 pods really throttled my performance, with a limited max output of 200 Mbps.

The Speed You Need Part 2: Verizon FIOS Review

Hey guys…. Time for a little more Tech Talk w/TK!!!

As I said before, we are all doing a lot more at home these days.  Having the right gear set up is great, but what you really need is a robust and stable backbone to power everything.  This is where your internet service from an ISP like Verizon or Xfinity comes into play.  You can have the fastest router on the planet, but if you don’t have a good strong signal coming into it… you’re sunk.

After using Xfinity at home and elsewhere for years, I switched to Verizon FIOS at home in July of 2020.  After some testing on my end, here is a quick summary of what I have found:

The Good:

  • The fastest download & upload speeds available.  Unlike other cable competitors, due to the fiber optic connection, Verizon FIOS is able to offer equal download and upload speeds.  This means when you sign up for a 1GB plan, for example, you are able to get up to ~1 Gbps both down and up.  While its cable competitors can offer the same download speeds, they cannot touch the upload speed (maxing out at ~40 Mbps). This is important when you consider all the video conferencing and live streaming from devices you may be doing.  Download speed is useful when pulling files down to your computer/devices like browsing, updating email, or streaming video from a service.  Upload speed comes into play when sending data out, like sending emails, transferring a file to work or school, and video calls.  Having that extra upload bandwidth for your money is really helpful these days.
  • Offer’s tri-band Wifi6 router.  Be sure to ask for the FIOS Router to ensure you get the latest Wifi6 protocol.  It is included in the 1GB plan but will add an extra monthly fee for a lower tier.  The router offers 3 bands (1 x 2.4 GHz and 2 x 5.0 GHz) to allow for a dedicated backhaul to help improve performance.
  • Allows for a single network name through the Self-Organizing Network (SON) option.  Much like other mesh network systems, FIOS offers you a single network name option when you add their FIOS Extenders to your system.  This helps to prevent you from having to switch networks as you move around the house.
  • Provides My FIOS app to control your network.  Change your network name, network password, or manage who is connected through parental controls, all from the My FIOS app.
  • Provides McAfee Home Network Protection service.  Protect the devices that cannot protect themselves by monitoring and blocking threats at a router level.  Get’s them before they get into your network.

The Not So Good:

  • The My FIOS app is a bit cumbersome.  Unlike its cable competitors, the My FIOS app feels clunky and takes some time to load and refresh.  It is more focused on account information and promotions than the ability to manage your network.  You will need to dive in a bit deeper to start managing your network.  I would love to see a separate internet app with more features.
  • Self-Organizing Network (SON) does not seem to be a true mesh network.  After testing the FIOS Router and FIOS Extender together to create the FIOS version of a mesh network, I don’t think it truly functions like a mesh network system does.  Additional FIOS Extenders show up in the app as connected devices, and not nodes or access points.  As a result, you are not able to see the details on devices connected to Extenders.  This can be helpful when troubleshooting connection issues.  Also, when rebooting your network, only the Router is controlled.  Extenders need to be manually rebooted by unplugging like you would need to do for any other device on your network to help re-establish a connection.
  • Router reboot function from the app does not seem to function consistently.  When a reboot of the router is triggered, in my testing, it does not always seem to occur.  Also, unlike other systems, the app simply notes the command was submitted and does not provide a progress status (% Complete).  You simply have to watch the FIOS Router LED to confirm completion.  
  • Check for availability in your area. Unlike its cable competitors, FIOS infrastructure requires a fiber optic network to deliver results. Unfortunately, that infrastructure isn’t available everywhere.
  • Additional hardware is required.  In addition to the FIOS Router, when FIOS is installed, a fiber optic signal decoder(?) is also required known as the Optical Network Terminal (ONT).  This is the device that is connected to the fiber optic connection from outside and provides the raw internet signal to your home.  Note, this can be connected directly to a router of your choice if you don’t like Verizon’s, but that does give their tech support an easy culprit to blame if things aren’t working properly :-).
  • Chat tech support is just ok.  As I tend to be a bit of a home network hack, a bit better than some, but by no means a network engineer, I like to monitor my network to ensure I’m getting the best performance.  When working with support via chat on speed issues, I have found their ability to diagnose the issue a bit hit or miss.  While they are professional, try-hard, and are available at all times, don’t pause between messages too long or they will quickly close the session and force you back in the queue, making you the next guys problem.  Especially relevant when they ask you to reboot your system :-).  Pro-Tip:  Start your chat from your phone using cellular data only and troubleshoot the system using a tablet or computer.  This way when they inevitably do ask you to reboot the network, you stay connected with them.

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